- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
The Toronto Blue Jays were able to make major additions to their ball club this winter, getting Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, R.A. Dickey and others, and expectations are high. In fact, seven Blue Jays hitters and four pitchers are owned in more than half of ESPN's standard mixed leagues. Of course, when I went searching for Blue Jays to talk to in the Citizens Bank Park clubhouse after Friday night's spring training win over the Philadelphia Phillies, I was focusing on a few barely owned Blue Jays who used to matter quite a bit in fantasy but for the time being appear to be sharing the designated hitter role.
Adam Lind went hitless in four at-bats from the No. 5 lineup spot in Tuesday's 4-1 loss to the Cleveland Indians. Meanwhile, on the bench and perhaps waiting for Lind to get on base so he could be summoned for pinch-running duty was speedster Rajai Davis. These guys, one an enticing power hitter and the other a major base stealer, are owned in a combined total of 7 percent of ESPN leagues, but it sure sounds like each player intends to be more relevant than that in 2013, and fantasy owners should be watching.
"I feel good," said Lind, who hit .305 and smacked 35 home runs in 2009 but hasn't been as valuable since. "To be honest, my role is yet to be determined. I'd like to stay in the big leagues, but it's my last year here, nothing is guaranteed. The last two years, I have had two good half-years. I'd like to try to get at least five months this year."
Lind spoke with a smile, like a guy who has little to lose, and perhaps that's the case. While fantasy owners seem disinterested, he's a proven player at the big league level, and even while struggling in 2010 and 2011, he hit 49 home runs. Last season he hit 11 home runs in only 321 at-bats, but battled injury and slumps. He did, however, hit .304 after the All-Star break, cementing at-bats on this year's team. He lost weight this offseason and claims a new yoga regimen has made his back stronger. With the emergence of Edwin Encarnacion in 2012, Lind, who is eligible at first base, isn't likely to claim that role regularly. But we just want to see him hit. I asked Lind what has gone wrong the past few seasons.
"I think I was too fast, too tense, too tight at times," he said. "You watch the big guys like [Prince] Fielder, they're slow and under control, everything they do. I need that rhythm and tempo. I had it for three months, then was like the fifth chair in the band. As for hitting 30 home runs, that's pretty elite. It's possible. I know I can do it, but I'm not gonna say it."
While Lind's contributions for fantasy owners last season were modest, Davis finished second to Mike Trout in all of baseball in stolen bases. A right-handed hitter and seemingly natural platoon mate with Lind, Davis also could find himself in a new organization next season, or sooner. Prospect Anthony Gose could steal a ton of bases and is an elite outfielder to boot. He's only 22, but he's nearly big league-ready. If this is a straight platoon with Lind, then Davis would figure to get less playing time, being the right-handed hitter, but then again, he wouldn't need many at-bats to pile up stolen bases. Davis has stolen an average of 43 bases per season since 2009, yet with an average of 420 at-bats per season, which is low. He doesn't offer much else in terms of fantasy or real-life aid, though.
"I guess time will have to tell what my role is," Davis said. "There's a good chance I'll face lefties. Whatever I can do to help us win, whatever the role is. I just take advantage of opportunities. I get the opportunity, I take it."
When I asked Davis if he thinks about running pretty much every time he gets on base, he stopped what he was doing, looked up at me and said, "I do a little more than thinking it. I'm trying to get it."
It might sound odd, but this situation really could work, and fantasy owners should be on guard. Lind is certainly a reasonable power source against right-handed pitching, carrying a .282/.335/.502 career line against them, with 99 of his 117 home runs. Davis boasts a .290/.349/.417 line against lefties, certainly serviceable, and neither of these players figures to be facing opposite-throwing pitchers regularly. That bodes well for their individual batting averages. For example, Lind hit .276 against right-handers in 2012, with nine home runs in 232 at-bats. That could have been a 20-plus-homer season had he played more. Frankly, Blue Jays fans and fantasy owners don't want him facing lefties.
And Davis, for all his flaws, had a pair of double-digit stolen base months in 2012, same as Trout. Davis stole third base 17 times. Only one other American Leaguer reached double digits there (Darin Mastroianni). Davis is elite at what he does, and every fantasy owner seems to be looking for cheap stolen bases. Look no further. In AL-only formats, Lind and Davis are likely already owned, but I have a feeling we'll be seeing their names in mixed leagues, probably 12 owners or deeper, during the season, as well.
Blue Jay talk: Brittle or unlucky? Third baseman Brett Lawrie will miss another two weeks because of a strained rib muscle, but I still wouldn't drop him in any leagues. This is a potential top-50 player. I know, I know, he can't help us from the disabled list. Maicer Izturis can steal the occasional base filling in, and if this gives Emilio Bonifacio unlimited playing time at second base, I'm all for it. Bonifacio is only nine games at second base away from coveted eligibility! ... Catcher J.P. Arencibia had a huge power spring and doubled Tuesday, but he also had trouble, as many do, catching knuckleballer R.A. Dickey. It might cost him playing time in the future. ... Colby Rasmus whiffed three times in three at-bats Tuesday. When Gose starts strong at Triple-A Buffalo, don't be shocked if Rasmus' time starting runs out. ... Don't read into Dickey's four-run performance Tuesday. His ball was certainly dancing. He's durable and will be a top-20 pitcher.
Eric Karabell takes a closer look at fantasy sleepers Adam Lind and Rajai Davis, including quotes from a recent interview he had with the two players.